NOTICE: USDA Keeps Organic Stakeholders in the Dark — Incompetence or Corruption?

February 23rd, 2013

Dear organic advocates,

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the governing board created by Congress that serves as a protective buffer and reviews all synthetic and non-organic materials proposed by corporate agribusiness and food processing interests before they can be used in organic farming or food production, meets twice a year.

For 30 days before each meeting the public is invited to scrutinize the petitions for materials proposed for use in organic agriculture and food that will come up at the NOSB meetings (their next meeting is scheduled for April in Portland, Oregon).

The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has invested a lot over the last few years in building up their public relations infrastructure. Some of that work, characteristically for any political body, is an attempt to convince citizens that they are doing the job in terms of protecting the integrity of organics. This includes keeping public interest groups apprised of important information and proposals being worked on at the NOP and NOSB.

NOP.Insider

Historically, the organic community has relied on timely messages from the NOP to learn about the public postings of NOSB committee recommendations. Recently, the NOP Insider has replaced email messages, and alerts to those who have proactively signed up to stay up-to-date on these issues.

In a grave disservice to organic consumers and farmers and their representatives, who are dedicated to overseeing the sausage making of government regulation, the USDA failed to announce the opening of the 30-day comment period prior to the upcoming April NOSB meeting. We discovered information about the meeting buried on the NOP website.

Just yesterday the NOP sent out one of their electronic newsletters, with a number of announcements, but made no mention of the public comment period which opened about a week ago. This has robbed the public of approximately 25% of the available time to scrutinize proposals for synthetics in organics and promulgate written comments.

Why is this failure by the USDA so important to the organic community?

For groups like The Cornucopia Institute, that have made a commitment to carefully scrutinize all proposals for the approval of synthetics in organic food production, even with two full-time food scientists and policy experts, we can barely do the scientific research necessary to look at all materials within that 30-day window and respond with a briefing paper ensuring that the NOSB members have an objective, independent analysis (all too many of the Technical Reviews, currently and in the past, are being conducted by scientists with economic ties to corporate agribusiness–see The Organic Watergate: http://www.cornucopia.org/USDA/OrganicWatergateWhitePaper.pdf)

According to the NOP website, a press release announcing the posting of the committee recommendations and request for public comments is scheduled to go out this coming Monday, February 25. As far as we know, there has been no message from the NOP Insider to publicize the NOSB committee recommendations and the start of the public comment period. It is unclear why the NOP/USDA would wait 10 days to let the public know that the recommendations have been posted, and to invite public comment. But we aim to find out. We are currently preparing a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request in an attempt to determine whether this was a premeditated delay and whether select members of the organic industry were, unfairly, individually notified prior to the public announcement.

We wanted to make sure everyone is aware that the comment period is open, the committee recommendations are available, and the comment period is ticking away.

The committee recommendations are available at
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5102682.

Citizens can sign up for oral comment at the meeting, in Portland, OR:

https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07e71cne6h74c9fed0&oseq=&c=&ch=

Mark A. Kastel

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